DRM the Saviour of Digital Media – If only it were that easy
Leonardo Chiariglione

After living for years an underground life Digital Rights Management (DRM) is finally getting the headlines. Years of looting of Intellectual Property on the web and elsewhere is convincing even the most stubborn that the traditional way information is created, managed, distributed and eventually used is fast reaching the end point. With most beliefs shattered there is no surprise that some are touting around the notion that DRM will save the business of media because it will enable businesses to trade content in manifold ways along the value-chain with the possibility for sellers “upstream” to set all imaginable conditions to buyers “downstream” thanks to powerful “Rights Expression Languages”. The content itself, when moving along the value-chain, would be wrapped in digital envelopes protected by robust digital locks. And – just in case the lock is not as robust as expected – the police and the courts are already equipped to put the infringers in jail.

Yes, DRM and law can do all that. But is it ever going to happen? Or, better, should it ever happen? The author thinks it will not and should not, because “content” is not just like any other goods that are traded in the marketplace. Content is what makes people cry and laugh, hate and love and do things they had never imagined before they could do. Billions of people have enjoyed media in certain ways and most of them are not ready to change them just because there is a technology now that can force the same people to behave differently. Businesses have been in existence based on rules that have taken shape over decades if not centuries and they are not ready to do things differently just because there are new technologies that turn their role on the value-chain upside down.

Still it is hard to think that technologies will sit idle for a long time waiting for people to make up their minds.

These considerations are the foundation of the Digital Media Project (DMP) a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to “promote continuing successful development, deployment and use of Digital Media that respect the rights of creators and rights holders to exploit their works, the wish of end users to fully enjoy the benefits of Digital Media and the interests of various value-chain players to provide products and services”.

The DMP takes the position that digital technologies are an asset of mankind that should be used to improve the role of creators, end-users and the multitude of other value-chain users, and that this goal can be achieved by standardising appropriate communication protocols at suitably identified interfaces in the value-chain. In other words the first goal of the DMP is a standard for “Interoperable DRM” that will allow different value-chain players to talk to one another in the same value-chain but also, to a large extent, across different value-chains .

But DMP is aware that technology alone can do little to convince people to abandon the Traditional Rights and Usages (TRU) that people have enjoyed for decades in the analogue age. These people do not care if a given TRU is enshrined in a law, or if it is an exception to the law, or if it is simply a custom. If these concerns are not resolved DMP specifications will likely encounter difficulties in its adoption – if not outright rejection.

Therefore DMP is developing – alongside its technical specifications – a Recommended Action on Mapping of TRUs to the Digital Space. This has begun with the identification and analysis of a large number of TRUs and is continuing with the study of different scenarios of TRU support in the digital space. These scenarios, that apply to individual TRUs, may range from full support of the TRU to no support at all and may include a number of intermediate scenarios of partial support.

In general to support a scenario it is necessary to assume that the DMP specification has certain technical features and that the jurisdiction in which the DMP solution is deployed adopts some legislative or regulatory measures. Then a cost/benefit analysis is made of the impact of the scenario on the more affected value-chain players.

The study of TRU #1 to quote provides an example of the use of the methodology. A possible scenario requires, inter alia, that a user making a "quote" sends an automatic notification to the appropriate rights holders – a technical constraint – but also that the law should limit the length of the quote, possibly depending on the type of media.

The TRU Recommended Action is meant to facilitate the deployment of DMP solutions. The target audience are legislative environments to help them produce the most appropriate regulations, as these are heavily influenced by a rather arcane and unusual technology with many unintended implications.